DANCES WITH SHEEP
On Somatic Ontologies of Human Nature and Wellbeing
and RePairing Human-Nature Condition with
Felt Thinking in Movement
a practice-led cross-disciplinary study in
dance & somatics | expressive arts | philosophy | psychology | environmental studies
by Anna Dako
With human nature being standardly defined as ways of thinking, feeling and acting, the contemporary discourse on the topic reveals a primary emphasis on thinking, i.e. mental processes, as the essence of being human. This observed prioritisation of cognitive activity over the lived experience, and which Merleau-Ponty calls ‘disembodied scientification’ (Merleau-Ponty and Edie, 1964) creates and re-enforces the commonly visible boundaries between the human and the natural world and forges many conceptual contradictions as well as prevailing objectification of the natural world as mere resource to humankind.
In this thesis I argue that the operational attitude toward Nature presupposes its existential passivity and renders it barely contextual to our own wellbeing. Next to that, I also propose that personal engagement and storied narrative offers more valid, subjective depth to how one can understand human nature and that the importance of deepening one’s comprehension of the relational interconnectedness with the living world around and caring for that relationship in everyday life has never been more urgent.
And while the currently opportunistic relation to Nature resides primarily within mental attitudes toward human nature that prioritize what we think over what we feel, somatic sensitivity, where somatic means to study the self from the perspective of one’s lived experience encompassing the dimensions of body, psyche and spirit (Hanna, 1986) emphasizes our inborn ability for internal perception and offers help in opening and widening our embodied capacities to engage with the world in ‘movements made special through care’ (Fraleigh, 2015). The mindful practices of somatic felt thinking, that sprang from this intuitive, practice-based inquiry as its methodological grounding, develop here into a holistic practice offered as a way of re-connecting with the ecological depths of the self and which value internal sensations, emotions and imaginings as integral part of being human in a ‘more-than-human’ world (Abram, 1996).
The thesis presents then the scope of experiential load shaped by felt thinking about human nature while moving in/with Nature, and elaborates on such processes in relation to the movers’ overall wellbeing. It covers creative journeys of opening up to the living agency of Nature itself through the emergent three phases of experiential relatedness and its dimensionality in embodied experience of the self as analogous to the dynamics of embryological layers formation, namely its ectodermic attentiveness, its mesodermic connectivity, and its endodermic intensity. The experiential depths provide also different time/space contexts for the embodied comprehension of the self that expand on the phenomenological and the Bergsonian heritage of thought in practice.
The first phase of experiential flux connects the movers to the natural environment as self through sensual presence in physical time of inward and outward s-pacing, the second phase offers co-creating engagement with the natural world through experiential responsiveness in psychological time of animating, and the final stage of becoming the Nature/self through insightful intuiting in primordial sense of relatedness takes the movers to the most meaningful extent of experience by deepening one’s sense of being and belonging.
Laid out as a thorough interpretation of practice, the thesis presents its original contribution to eco-phenomenology with its ontological principle of embodied relationality in towards and away from movement as a primal gateway to wellbeing and its creative inter-constitution. It also constructs a cyclical paradigm for ecological felt thinking grounded in unifying depths of experience of ‘other’ within the self and provides a proper look at contextualising it theory. Supported by wide considerations of ontological co-creation in Nature the thesis concludes that felt thinking with Nature, as experiential reflexivity practice guided by being with Nature in contemplative movement, and a practice-based method of self-inquiry, can path a more ecologically mindful way for an inclusive understanding of human nature/Nature relationship as Nature/self, and promotes a more intuitive, movement-guided alertness to modes of ‘being well’ with self/other in broader life contexts that weave both, the creative and the caring together.